9 Totally Awesome Muay Thai Benefits

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Muay thai — the national sport of Thailand — is gaining more attention in the U.S. as celebs like Gina Rodriguez and Ryan Gosling give the martial art more exposure. Even though it looks like an intense, physically demanding fighting style, muay thai is a lot more approachable than you might think.

“Your first lesson will always be different from what you see on TV or in a professional ring,” says Raquel Harris, six-time muay thai champion, co-owner of Strike’ng Fitness and trainer at Hit House, New York’s first boutique muay thai studio. “No one is going to give you a black eye on your first day.” (Thank goodness!) She suggests starting with a beginner class that focuses on form, then talking to your coach about sparring when you’re ready. Here's why you should glove up and give it a go.

1

Muay Thai Can Reduce Anxiety

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It might seem like sparring would actually increase your anxiety, but fighting can be calming once you get going. “There’s minimal time to think in sparring because you’re constantly reacting to your opponent’s every move,” muay thai trainer Raquel Harris says.

And having such an intense focus on the moment leaves less room for anxiety. “Muay thai has helped me deal with my anxiety and everyday stressors,” says Edyk Jeffry, trainer and manager at NY San Da, a martial arts school in New York City. “If you dwell on a mistake in sparring, you’ll keep making more until you start focusing on the present moment.”

2

Muay Thai Improves Your Balance

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“Anything that requires you to stand on one leg — like kicking — can improve your balance,” muay thai trainer Raquel Harris says. “At the advanced level, you need to be able to kick nonstop with the same leg without toppling over.”

Not only does falling down end in potential bruises to your backside (not to mention your pride), you’ll also lose points with the judges if you’re stumbling around the ring. “Muay thai is judged on gracefulness, so balance is a focal point in training,” martial arts trainer Edyk Jeffry says. “It’s important to show that you’re in control of your body and the fight.”

Read more: The One Workout That Helped Cure My Anxiety

3

Muay Thai Works Multiple Muscles

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Unlike other combat sports that limit you to your fists and feet, muay thai incorporates your elbows, shins and knees. “You’re moving, striking and defending from multiple angles, so all your muscles and energy systems are working,” says Dan Roberts, CSCS, a personal trainer who just launched a muay thai-inspired training plan, NUK SOO. Kicking works your core, hips and glutes; upper-body strikes (punches and elbows) work your arms and waist; and grappling is great for your core, arms and traps, he says.

And because fighters are also judged on how well they perform each technique, there’s no cheating the movements. “You strive to do every technique correctly and gracefully, which also burns more calories, since proper form involves turning your hips and shoulders more,” martial arts trainer Edyk Jeffry says.

4

Muay Thai Is an Intense Cardio Workout

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The cardio is no joke. When personal trainer Dan Roberts trained in Thailand, his teacher would make him do 500 kicks against a bag before his lesson would even begin. “Muay thai athletes end up conditioning not just their muscles, but their entire central nervous system and cardiovascular system,” he says.

That explains how martial arts trainer Edyk Jeffry lost 50 pounds when he started training. “In order to be effective at muay thai, you need to run and jump rope all the time, and that’s just to prepare your body for the hundreds of kicks and knees you’ll be throwing at the bag,” he says. “Muay thai practitioners pride themselves on their cardio.”

Read more: Calories Burned From Muay Thai Kickboxing

5

Muay Thai Sharpens Your Reflexes

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Unfortunately, you won’t be the only one throwing elbows: You’ll also need to dodge the strikes of your opponent, which means you better be able to react quickly. “There are a lot of different strikes in muay thai, and several ways to defend a single strike,” muay thai trainer Raquel Harris says. You can move out of the way, block, throw a counterpunch. And you need to be quick in order to choose the best defensive move in the moment.

These benefits extend beyond the ring. “Reflexes improve when your brain and muscles communicate to each other more efficiently,” personal trainer Dan Roberts says. “You’ll find you can read and react to everyday situations a lot quicker, especially under pressure.”

6

Muay Thai Teaches You to Defend Yourself

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Any fight training will come in handy if you ever need to defend yourself, but muay thai has a couple of key moves that stand out. “In a real-life situation, I’d use my knees, elbows and the clinch,” muay thai trainer Raquel Harris says. The clinch is a technique that involves holding your opponent still while you attack. “I never had a threatening situation where I needed to use it, but I’ve been able to successfully sweep, throw and dominate guys three times my size in the ring without extreme effort.”

You’ll also learn how to escape these types of holds if you’re ever on the receiving end. “The clinch teaches you how to dominate or escape positions when an attacker has control of your head, wrist or waist,” Harris says.

Read more: 8 Self-Defense Myths That Are Dangerous to Believe

7

Muay Thai Makes You More Confident

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You’ll gain confidence from training in muay thai not just because you’ll literally be kicking butt, but because you suddenly become more aware of all the awesome things your body is capable of doing. “Knowing how to defend a punch or throw someone down gives you a reason to feel good about your body,” personal trainer Dan Roberts says. “The body is often reduced down to an ornament — especially on social media, where everyone is pretty and photogenic. But muay thai teaches you that your body is more than that: It’s an instrument, a tool of expression.”

8

Muay Thai Teaches You to Strategize Quickly

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“Striking is more than just how to throw a kick or punch,” martial arts trainer Edyk Jeffry says. “It’s knowing when to throw one, which means you need to perfect your timing, accuracy and defense.” It also means thinking five steps ahead of your opponent.

To develop these fast-on-your-feet strategy skills, you’ll need to start sparring. “If you aren’t sparring you’re missing most of what muay thai has to offer,” Jeffry says. There’s a lot less strategy when you’re hitting a bag that can’t hit back. The good news is that you don’t need to be a pro to get going. “You just need an understanding of the basics in offense and defense and someone knowledgeable to ease you into this form of practice.”

9

Muay Thai Is More Than a Workout

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“Muay thai is a sport rooted in traditions and respect,” martial arts trainer Edyk Jeffry says. “Most practitioners perform a wai, a Thai greeting consisting of a slight bow with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion, before or after training and competitions.”

A muay thai fight is no scrappy bar brawl. “It takes a team of people to prepare for a fight — teammates, coaches, even your opponent and their coach — it’s all synergistic,” Jeffry says. “You and your opponent build camaraderie based on the fact that you both worked hard and brought your best.”

What Do YOU Think?

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Have you heard of muay thai before? Have you ever watched a muay thai fight? Or maybe you’ve tried a muay thai-inspired workout before? What do you think of all these potential benefits from the sport? Do they pique your interest? Would you try it? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

The Best Ankle Wrap Support for Muay Thai Kickboxing

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Overview

Muay thai — the national sport of Thailand — is gaining more attention in the U.S. as celebs like Gina Rodriguez and Ryan Gosling give the martial art more exposure. Even though it looks like an intense, physically demanding fighting style, muay thai is a lot more approachable than you might think.

“Your first lesson will always be different from what you see on TV or in a professional ring,” says Raquel Harris, six-time muay thai champion, co-owner of Strike’ng Fitness and trainer at Hit House, New York’s first boutique muay thai studio. “No one is going to give you a black eye on your first day.” (Thank goodness!) She suggests starting with a beginner class that focuses on form, then talking to your coach about sparring when you’re ready. Here's why you should glove up and give it a go.

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